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6 Ways You Can Use Storytelling to Have a More Compelling Rhetoric

Matt Peters
September 20, 2018

The Power of a Good Story

The art of storytelling is an important human quality that dates back to oral tradition. While storytelling has primarily been a means of entertainment, it has concurrently been a way to discuss complex ideas. The ancient Greeks used storytelling to persuade action. The Greek's invention of fables created a tradition of convincing people of some lesson or moral by disguising it as an engaging story. By the 20th century, humanity had molded the fable into the idea of the Narrative Paradigm Theory. This theory supports the idea that all meaningful conversation among humans is done through storytelling and brings forth the sedimentary nature of storytelling.

So how can we utilize the power of storytelling in modern rhetoric to improve our persuasive capabilities?

According to rhetorical theory, the basis of rhetoric is broken up into five sections; invention, arrangement, style, delivery and memory. The art of storytelling can be implemented into each of these to take advantage of humans’ natural tendency towards stories.

1. Know Your Goal

Intention has completely to do with the actual subject matter and what you are trying to do with what you have. What are you trying to convince someone of? In the world of persuasion, the first part of this has to do with your end goal. Is your motivation behind your rhetoric to drive sales? Increase brand awareness? Whatever your goal may be, the first step is figuring out the purpose of speaking. This is important because at some point, you are going to have to drive this point home.

See What Makes Your Story Connect

2. Know Your Story

The second aspect of innovation when applying storytelling to rhetoric is taking a step back and determining if you have a compelling story that illustrates the idea you want to share. Unlike fables or other tall tales, in modern rhetoric, narratives that work the best are real life stories. This can come in the form of a client testimonial, brand storytelling, or a short story on why the concept you are talking about matters. An off-topic story will only distract from your goal, so make sure that your story directly relates to the point you are trying to make.

3. Utilize Narrative Persuasion

Arrangement traditionally refers to how your speech is organized. What do you start and end with? What or who drives your story? How do other elements like sound and images work together to persuade? In the case of persuasive storytelling, the arrangement needs to compliment an organic compelling narrative.

Narrative can be persuasive for two main reasons; causation and normalization. We look for stories either when want to know the cause or reason behind something or to prove something to be true. Thus, if you are seeking to explain or prove something, a story can be a powerful way to convince people of it.

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The narrative type best suited for rhetoric would be a factually correct short story. Although the focus of your arrangement should be narrative, you aren’t just telling a story for the sake of entertainment. Be sure you are able to connect your story to your goal. Since you are choosing your story based on your goal, this part should be quite easy. Also utilize storytelling techniques when telling your story.

Humans of New York is an Instagram account that does a really good job of using narrative to tell the story of a given individual. They do an exemplary job of showing how a narrative can be connected to both an individual and a social media brand. It’s not enough just to state what happened through facts, weave the aspects of the narrative into a cohesive plot that can be engaging. To form an immediate connection with your audience, maybe even consider utilizing masterplot

4. Catering the Experience

Once you decide how to form your narrative within the arrangement, you also need to account for the other aspects of the outline of your speech. This can include everything from dramatic pauses, to background music, to visual storytelling.

Acousmatic music adds a nice touch in any story. If you are including a visual presentation with your speech only include visuals if they help move your story along and don't distract from it. Visuals can be especially helpful in either explaining complex relationships or noting key points.

5. A Passionate Style

Audience members want to be captivated by your story. Good storytellers are passionate and personable. Passion and engagement is especially important when utilizing storytelling. Narrative persuasion only works if the audience is invested and cares about the story.


6. Take a Hint from Oral Tradition

Delivery is an important part of any public speaking setting. Have your story memorized and deliver it seamlessly. Any pausing action to read a paper or think about what to say next takes away from the story experience, so be well prepared.

Rhetoric storytelling can be a powerful tool and by using these 5 steps you can maximize the benefits from it. Next time you need to persuade an audience of something consider utilizing a story to make your point.

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